Notes on Organizing Digital Image Collections

I’ve spent the past few months going through and organizing my entire iPhoto -> collection. It’s been a tedious but wonderful process. I’ve come to a few conclusions:

Snoopy mud flats

  • Everyone is sitting on tens of thousands of digital images.
  • No one can find a damn thing in that giant pile.
  • If you can’t find it five or ten years from now you may as well have not taken it in the first place.
  • The time to deal with your images is the day you shot them.
  • Delete the duds. Bad exposure. Out of focus. Not the best of the set. Delete delete delete. Delete heaps and you’ll still have more keepers than you’ll ever be able to enjoy. Don’t be a hoarder.
  • For the keepers, the key is findability.
    • Image titles. Album titles. Faces. Keywords. Doesn’t matter. Just make sure one or more keyword exists for search.
    • When adding titles, imagine a future version of yourself searching for this image.
  • Be disciplined. The longer you wait, the more daunting the task.
  • Chip away. Do it now.

5 Replies to “Notes on Organizing Digital Image Collections”

  1. Having gone through this years ago, here are some additional tips:

    You can’t eat the elephant at once. Take time to decide what is core to you in findability, then resolve to do it FOR EVERY IMAGE FROM HERE ON FORWARD. Don’t let the huge pile of old images stop you (“Oh, I can’t go through all of them”), just focus on that line in the sand called NOW and resolve to do this for everything new.

    For the old images, do classic sprints. “Okay, starting the timer, let’s see how much of 2013 I can get through in the next hour. GO!” Then end the sprint, and do another one in a couple days.

    Perfect is the enemy of Good. Accept that maintaining a library of pictures in the day of easy imagery is a constant iterative process. Sit down, resolve to make things a little better, then step away for the next day. If you wait until when you have enough time to make it perfect, you’ll never do a damned thing.

    ABP – Always Be Purging. Keep going through the crap, and aggressively deleting. I’ve found pictures I took 10 years ago that seem repetitive today. DELETE.

  2. Great advice Jim, thanks for that. You’re exactly right – as with any big project, break it into manageable chunks so the huge-ness of it doesn’t overwhelm you.

  3. Oh, and although it’s possibly another subject entirely, I didn’t see that wonderful word…..”backup”. :-)

  4. Organizing images was one of the main reasons for me to stop using iPhoto. I do it the good old way, by folders named in a year-month-event format. I add these folders to Lightroom then. I can find anything from the last 15 years in a minute.

  5. Mark, I’m afraid you’ve lost me. By throwing away the database and returning to the filesystem, how can you find all of your images tagged “waterfall” from your entire collection? How can you find everything with your mother’s face present? How can you see then thumbnails side by side to figure out which three to keep? How can you filter for just your favorite images? etc. etc.

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